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Stylish Cops, Urgent Pop--a Shopper's Guide To The Top 40

December 08, 1985

If you think you see some familiar faces in this year's edition of the Top 40 Guide--designed to help the Christmas shopper by providing capsule reviews of the Top 40 albums on Billboard magazine's current chart--you're right. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.," Bryan Adams' "Reckless" and Wham!'s "Make It Big" were also in the Top 40 a year ago at this time. Stevie Wonder, the Cars, Barbra Streisand and Kiss were also there, but with different albums.

The top spot is held by the first television sound-track album to reach No. 1 since Henry Mancini's Grammy-winning "Music From Peter Gunn" in 1959 . The chart is also dotted with such newcomers as Whitney Houston, Mr. Mister, Freddie Jackson, A-Ha, Ready for the World and the Hooters.

The reviews are drawn from Calendar's original reviews, but the ratings in some cases reflect additional staff input. Contributing reviewers: Terry Atkinson, Matt Damsker, Robert Hilburn, Steve Hochman, Dennis Hunt, Connie Johnson, Jon Matsumoto, Lori E. Pike, Steve Pond, Duncan Strauss , Dan Sullivan and Chris Willman .

Ratings: four stars, excellent; three stars, good; two stars, ho-hum; one star, poor.

1. "MIAMI VICE," sound track, MCA. TV's stylish cops usually chase stylish robbers to the accompaniment of rock 'n' roll, which is all the rationale the "Miami Vice" producers needed to throw together this disjointed collection of slick old hits, bad new songs and dull instrumentals. Criminal.

2. HEART, "Heart," Capitol. Several songs cover Heart's old screamer territory, but today it just sounds silly. The mid-tempo, "mature" songs with hard-candy gloss that dominate the record fare much better. The melodies and lyrics are catchy and haunting, not unlike those of 'til tuesday. Like 'til tuesday's album, though, "Heart" lacks any emotional center.

3. JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP, "Scarecrow," Riva. Mellencamp has been churning out superficially Springsteen-like songs about the good ol' U.S.A. since before Bruce became big box office, and he's been getting better at it all the time. Though contrived and unconvincing, this album has the thematic content and the sound--heavy back beat, strummed guitars, gritty vocals--that people want to hear. It's big. It's now. It's American.

4. ZZ TOP, "Afterburner," Warner Bros. This may be the most just-plain-fun album of the year. Like fellow hard-rockers Van Halen, this Texas trio has a keen sense of basic rock feeling, technical skill and has been effectively interweaving synthesizer into the guitar attack. Even the single ballad on this LP has the grainy feeling of the Eagles at their best. "Afterburner" is a blast.

5. 1/2 DIRE STRAITS, "Brothers in Arms," Warner Bros. The band has stuck to the same game plan since its first hit, "Sultans of Swing," and like all Dire Straits albums, this one is easy to listen to but unmemorable.

6. STEVIE WONDER, "In Square Circle," Motown. Wonder's first complete album in five years features mostly fast- and medium-tempo songs with romantic themes--likable but tame stuff. The closest he comes to excellence is in the simple, powerful attack "It's Wrong (Apartheid)." Otherwise, Wonder seems to have settled into a pop groove, and we expect more from "The Genius" than passable pop.

7. WHITNEY HOUSTON, "Whitney Houston." Arista. Neither the frequently listless arrangements nor the sometimes mediocre material of this debut LP hides the fact that Houston is a singer with enormous power and potential. Her vocal on "Saving All My Love" should mean a cinch Grammy nomination.

8. TEARS FOR FEARS, "Songs from the Big Chair," Mercury. The group has discarded the distractingly heavy, ponderous probings of its debut LP and replaced the rampant breast-beating with an artful finesse. At least one of our critics thinks so.

9. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, "Born in the U.S.A," Columbia. The most uplifting figure in American rock puts the stark emotional landscapes of his last LP, "Nebraska," into a more easily digested framework. A richly absorbing album that, despite its lighter tone and ringing guitars, suggests that the American Dream is slipping away because of our own indifference.

10. FREDDIE JACKSON, "Rock Me Tonight," Capitol. Jackson is hampered only by lackluster material--with the exception of the title track, which is sparked by a kind of lazy, zonked-out sexiness. The rest of the album could use some of that track's proficiency and style.

11. RUSH, "Power Windows," Mercury. Another set of mostly invigorating music that, despite Geddy Lee's one-dimensional singing and Neil Peart's convoluted lyrics, brings some intelligence, restraint and vigor to the often maligned form of progressive rock.

12. STING, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," A&M. The Police chief voices a clear, anti-war global valentine amid a boggling array of polished, passionate yet subtly insinuating tunes. Without losing sight of the pop audience, Sting has delivered a brilliant, uncompromised fusion of pop and jazz.

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